After the Brussels attacks: Meeting fire with fire isn’t the answer

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Giles Merritt
Giles Merritt

Founder of Friends of Europe

“Who is responsible for making us hostages of terrorists?” asked a baffled Brussels citizen on TV within a few hours of the deadly attacks at Zaventem airport and a metro station close to the EU Commission’s Berlaymont HQ. And another asked the same TV reporter immediately afterwards: “How is it this country has become a breeding ground for terrorism?”

As Belgians, other Europeans and friends around the world ask the same questions, it’s worth giving these some thought. Political leaders are talking of responding with a renewed “war against terrorism”, but the reality is that more violence will not yield the best results.

What is instead needed is a response that goes to the heart of the problem. Rather than thinking in terms of “an eye for an eye”, we would do better to “turn the other cheek” and react with peaceful and constructive policies.

The core support for militant Islamic terrorism, whether IS or any other grouping, comes from people who believe their own troubles are the result of prejudice and neglect by the rich countries of the EU, and by the US.

Under-privileged young people of Maghreb extraction in long-neglected immigrant districts of Brussels or Paris are natural targets for radicalisation. And by the same token, people throughout the Middle East who believed that the Arab Spring five years ago would herald a new era of Western support and increased economic development are similarly disappointed and resentful.

Europe’s response to the latest outrages – now in Brussels and last November in Paris – should be to prepare an ambitious new strategy for addressing the dangers of terrorism. That means opening the EU’s coffers for an expensive drive on the poverty and economic weaknesses of the Arab world.

And it also means a much more determined approach to the problems of housing, education and above all jobs for immigrant, and largely Arab, communities. A short walk in the now infamous Brussels district of Molenbeek should be enough to convince the visitor why it is labelled a breeding ground for terrorism – densely populated and dirty, it contrasts miserably with the city’s prosperous neighbourhoods.

Meeting fire with fire is not the answer. Of course the fanatics and fundamentalists at the head of Daesh, as IS is more correctly known, are cynical and unscrupulous outlaws. But there is no practical way they can be brought to book for the deaths of so many innocents in Brussels and before that in Paris.

The most effective counter to this wave of terrorism is to address its root causes. That means taking tough problems off the back burner; the neglect of our neighbours both around the Mediterranean and in our inner cities must become priorities for Europe’s help and development.

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